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by Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD | bio

For all of last week, the most visited story at Reuters.com was the shocking Kinsey-like report that women over 50 are traveling to Kenya for sexual adventures.

It’s still at no. 5 on Reuters’ “most popular” list.

The fact that it has remained so high for so long says a lot about attitudes toward older women seeking sexual companionship — and older women in general.

The author refers to the women described as being in their 50s and 60s as “elderly” — a reference you will not hear directed at men of that age.

For years, older men have visited foreign countries for sex and intimate companionship. This was acceptable behavior for men with money for the fare. The world has even turned a blind eye to the men who have supported the sex trafficking of boys and girls, though the U.S. government has in recent years taken some steps to prosecute Americans who commit sex crimes overseas.

Thailand has long been a mecca for anything goes — for men, that is. The New York Times has published compelling stories, many by columnist Nicholas Kristof, about girls in Cambodia sold into prostitution by neighbors and families. But no one made fun of the men. They were described as degenerate and contributing to the desperately ruined lives of these young girls and boys. The news around the actions lasted a day, at best.

The story about white women above the age of 50 who choose an erotic holiday in Kenya, finding available and attractive men in their 20s, well above legal age, to be companion for days, weeks and even months — well this is a travesty of a different order.

“Old white guys have always come for the younger girls and boys, preying on their poverty … But these old women followed … they never push the legal age limits, they seem happy just doing what is sneered at in their countries,” said one bar manager who sees many couples.

“It’s not evil,” said Jake Grieves-Cook, chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board. “But it’s certainly something we frown upon.” He also called it “unwholesome.”

“It’s a social arrangement. I buy him a nice shirt and we go out for dinner,” said a 56-year-old woman from southern England. “For as long as he stays with me he doesn’t pay for anything, and I get what I want — a good time. How is that different from a man buying a young girl dinner?”

This is clearly risky behavior for both men and women. An academic at Nottingham University who writes on sex tourism told Reuters that she had met women who say they shun condoms because it doesn’t fit with their erotic fantasy. The estimated adult HIV prevalence rate in Kenya is above 6 percent, and unprotected sex also increases exposure to potentially life-threatening sexually transmitted infections such as Hepatitis B and C, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and the ubiquitous human papillomavirus (HPV), which could lead to cervical cancer, oral cancer and, yes, even cancer of the penis.

But the issue here is not personal judgment. It is that women of a certain age are expected to give up their interest in sex, if they are un-partnered and over 50. Well, the travel industry has made it possible for older women to prove that they have both an unchecked libido and bad judgment, just like older men. It also may be the beginning of a whole new industry — overseas sex tours for women of a certain age.

* * * * *
Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen,
director of the New York Menopause Center, is a gynecologist affiliated
with New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a board certified fellow of the
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Have a question about sex, women’s health or the menopausal transition? Write to [email protected].

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  • Dr. Pat Allen December 7, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    WVFC will continue to be a Voice for Good Judgment in the arena of passion. Thank you for your support.

  • naomi dagen bloom December 7, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Thanks, Dr. Pat, for talking about the issue that needs more voices: unprotected sex by women over 50.
    Added a link back to you on my blog for World AIDS Day.